How to Deal With Your Child Lying

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 09, 2023
4 min read

Kids lie for many reasons. They may want to avoid a consequence or say what comes to mind even if it’s not true. Children may start lying suddenly. This can be shocking for parents who have dealt with an honest child until now. Knowing why your child is lying and how to talk to them can help stop this behavior. 

Understanding why children start lying can help you treat the underlying reason. Children typically lie for four reasons. 

  1. They may not know better. 
  2. They may know it’s wrong to lie but have a stronger desire to accomplish something else. 
  3. They may say what pops in their head without filtering. 
  4. They may try to mislead an adult because they have negative feelings towards them. 

Determine how serious your child's lies are. Depending on your child’s age, there may be different intentions behind their lying. A young child may tell tall tales which isn’t always a problem. An older child may lie about their behavior. This secret keeping could lead to serious behavioral problems as an adult. 

Correct lying behavior. You should not punish or corner your child when they’re caught in a lie. This can lead to more serious lies or resentment. Instead, remain calm and explain to them why lying is wrong. You can also provide them with facts. Then encourage them to tell you the story again but truthfully. 

How to handle your child lying. Don’t scold or yell at them when you catch them in a lie. You’ll want to keep communication honest and comfortable between you and your child. The following steps will help you handle your child’s lies:

  1. View lies as skill-building. As your child gets older, they’ll test what they can get away with. This is how they learn consequences. 
  2. Respond to lies with facts. Especially when dealing with children under the age of three, let them know that there are facts. Lay out evidence that contradicts their lies. 
  3. Help them find a way to deal with certain behaviors. If you catch your child in a lie, let them know that they can tell you the truth. 
  4. If they see you lie, they’ll lie. Your child will watch how you respond to things, and if you’re lying, they will think they can too. 
  5. Let older children know there are times when small lies can be okay. Then teach them the moral consequences of bigger lies. Let them see how you’ve been caught in lies and let it be a learning experience for them. 

You should be concerned when your child lies frequently. If your child’s lying is paired with other concerning behavior, they may have psychological problems. A child that lies and doesn’t have friends can also be a concern. They may feel isolated and lonely. If your child lies and shows no signs of remorse or guilt, they might have underlying issues as well.

By age three, your child may already understand what lying is. Children often start lying to cover up actions they know are wrong. But lying can also signify cognitive and social understanding. Advantages of your child lying include: 

  • Cognitive ability. It takes cognitive skills to regulate their actions, plan their lies, and strategize when they lie. Lying is a problematic behavior, but it could be your child’s way of developing their thoughts and actions. 
  • Controlling their thoughts. Your child will need to go against what they’re trained to think to maintain a lie. This shows that some children can hold conflicting thoughts in their minds and control which action they talk about. 
  • That doesn’t mean they have a lack of morals. Just because lying is bad, doesn’t mean your child is. Some studies have shown that there is little to no relationship between children’s lying behavior and moral understanding. 

Disadvantages include:

  • Lying because they’re stressed. Your child may lie because they feel a lot of pressure to act a certain way. They may be feeling pressure from their parents. This could lead to low self-esteem and frequent lying to avoid the truth. 
  • Unable to explain their actions. Your child may not understand that what they are doing is wrong. If they don’t know their behavior is bad, they continue to lie about their actions. They may not have the cognitive ability to understand why they’re lying. 
  • Used to get attention. If your child feels neglected, they may come up with lies to get your attention. This may be a coping mechanism for not getting the praise that they want. This is a behavioral problem that can be addressed.